In the Dragon's Lair
Olpara stumbled to her feet a moment before there was a flash and boom as a lighting bolt sped from Varatel's hand to blow a nearby helmed horror apart. She blinked her eyes against the flash of light and took a moment to take stock of herself. She was bruised, but unharmed. She had managed to block the flaming sword with her short sword. Unfortunately the force of the blow had sent her flying.
She looked about, just in time to see the armoured construct from the previous day disappear. Along with it went two of the helmed horrors and Misara. "Misara!" she called out.
Varatel looked about at Olpara's shout, then cursed. "Finish them quickly."
There were only three of the helmed horrors left, two in the air and one on the ground.
Kir'Mana ran forward to help Barith as Haranye put an arrow into the floating helmed horror that was trying to bring its crossbow to bear on Varatel.
The wizard drew a wand from her robes, moving faster than the helmed horror. She pointed the wand and whispered something. From the trees around the helmed horror black tentacles burst forth, wrapping it up in a tight grip. Even as Olpara watched the tentacles began to constrict, crushing the armour that was the creature.
As Kir'Mana and Barith finished the one they fought, Haranye felled the last, an arrow deep in the armoured chest of the horror.
Varatel ran to where Misara had disappeared. Haranye was helping a wounded Estai to his feet.
"They took her," Varatel said, then cursed loudly in elvish.
"We better find her then," Barith said as he sheathed his Kukri. "Better to be killed by this Asharass than to let Yeshelné rip us apart for losing Larethian's champion."
"This is no time to joke," Varatel said. "They took her, and from what Misara told us of this Asharass we probably don't have long to save her. Estai, do you live?" she called out.
"It's just a scratch, nothing that some elverquisst mixed with a healing potion won't cure." He lifted a flask into the air, as if in a toast, and then took a drink from it.
"Very well. We must find an entrance. We'll start at the end of the path and then move on from there."
"Wait a moment," Olpara said, running towards Varatel.
"No time Olpara," Varatel told her. "Stay here, you'll be safe enough until the forces from Silverymoon and Everlund arrive."
"But there is something..." All five of the elves took off running, disappearing amongst the trees before she could finish her sentence. She sighed and walked over to a fallen helmed horror. Its armour was already dissolving into slag. She kicked a partially melted gauntlet away. "Stupid big people," she said. "All they had to do was listen to me."
She reached into her jacket and removed a piece of folded silk. She peeled the material back, revealing a golden ring within, set with one ruby. There were two empty settings in the ring, identical to the one that held the ruby.
The ring had come from the phaerimm's horde; Olpara had grabbed it with a pile of other jewellery. She had cast a spell to identify the ring two nights ago, sprinkling precious diamond dust upon it to be certain it was what she thought: A ring of wishes.
Well, of a wish, for that was all that was left. She probably should have given it to Misara, or Rowan, and she had planned to... But it was a wish. A wish was not something easily given away.
She tossed the silk aside and put the ring on her ring finger. She really should chase after the elves, call out to them, and let them know what she had. But what if their enemies heard her shouting? They would know what she planned, or they might try to take the ring away from her.
"Stupid big people," she said once more. She wondered if she might wish for Asharass' destruction. She doubted it. She could wish Misara to her side. She might wish that the mage Khelben Blackstaff or even the great Elminster to her. Olpara gently chewed at her lower lip. That would be a good wish, but she did not think that such powerful mages would appreciate being called in such a manner. They might turn her into a bug before she had the chance to explain her predicament.
They had to stop Asharass, she thought. To do that they had to get inside the hall. Misara was likely already within. So she had to enter as well. She thought about it, tapped her foot, and wondered what would be the best course of action. She wanted to sit down and give it a good think, but time was limited.
"Alright. This is going to give you something of a shock, but you deserve it." She put her right hand over the ring on her left. "I wish that I, Varatel, Kir'Mana, Barith, Estai and Haranye were within the hall, in a place where we can see Misara, and be in a position to help her, and yet be hidden." Even as she spoke the wish she thought of all the stories she had heard. Stories of wishes being granted in a way that the person who made them never intended. It was not a good thought to have as the magic was whisking her away.
Misara was being held up, a construct gripping each arm, another holding her legs. She was staring at a stone ceiling far up above her. She twisted about, trying to break free, but her limbs where gripped too tightly, her captors too strong, and she had no real leverage.
She was captured.
It was not the first time it had happened. Now she wondered what they were going to do to her.
She moved her lips in a silent prayer for healing, just enough to take the fuzziness from her thinking and the ringing from her ears. She stopped struggling, saving her strength for a time when it would be of more use.
As they carried her she lifted her head to see what was about her.
"Greeting Asharass," she said, staring up at an immense dragon. It was a steel skeleton covered in glass. Why glass she had no idea. No doubt the glass was important.
The constructs were carrying her to a set of stairs that led to a platform high above her. She spotted a tall, beautiful woman, with red hair and pale skin. She was not real, Misara realised, noting a certain transparency to her. A projection of Asharass?
The woman looked up and Misara found herself staring into red eyes. The woman smiled and simply moved her head, indicating the stairs. She said nothing, which Misara felt was something of a refreshing change. Too many would be conquerors wanted to talk.
The constructs began to run, thundering up the stairs. In a short time she was brought up to the platform. There was a huge glass bowl, filled with something that likely was, at least in part, blood. As the scent of it reached her she almost retched. Surely the blood of a good and just god had to smell better than that.
There were many people up there. Some of them were pouring more blood into the bowl, some stirring the disgusting mixture to keep it liquid, and some doing things she did not understand. Directing them all was a half-elven woman with an odd shade of skin colour and almond shaped eyes.
"What's this?" the woman asked.
"More Paladin blood," the superior construct said. It sounded pleased.
For some reason Misara was surged by a sudden urge to correct them. She kept her silence however.
"Hang her over the bowl and slice her throat," the woman said, as if she were discussing something no more important than the proper way to kill a chicken. That was a little insulting, Misara thought.
The constructs carried her to the edge of the bowl. She tried to break free of their hold as they shifted about, the two helmed horrors grabbing her around her shoulders and elbows, forcing her out over the lip of the bowl. The scent hit her directly in the face, making her eyes water and nose run.
As she swallowed the bile that rose in her throat she saw how everything worked. The blood would flow down a pipe, into the glass that clad Asharass. Not a drop would be wasted. It was clever, verging on brilliant. It might even work, even with a mixture that smelled so bad.
The superior construct released her, moved away and called, "Bring me a dagger."
Misara was not going to die with her throat cut and her blood added to the mess below. She tried to break the hold the horrors had one her, but it was futile.
"Here," she heard the woman say, "you'll find this sharp enough."
Nothing for it, Misara thought, letting herself go limp in their hands. A moment later she again threw all her effort into breaking free, into getting away from the bowl. The helmed horrors restrained her. Even as they set their strength to holding her she threw herself forward, jamming her knees against the lip of the bowl, pushing off with all her strength.
They had not been expecting that, not been ready for it, and their strength was working against them, was instead working for her. She broke free of their grip and launched herself out, over the bowl. As she fell towards the blood one thought went through her mind: What now?
Olpara found herself standing upon a narrow beam, high above a stone floor. There was a huge, steel dragon skeleton, covered in glass, and directly below her an immense bowl that held something that looked like blood and smelled like an offal pit. She saw the helmed horrors and the other construct carry Misara onto the platform below.
She looked to her side when she heard a gasp. Varatel stood precariously on the same beam as her, one foot extended out over the drop. Whatever she had been doing at the moment of Olpara's wish, she had not expected to find herself in such a position, but to be fair, the halfling thought, who would?
Olpara looked about, spotting the other elves nearby. By some miracle none of them fell from the beams.
"What happened?" Barith asked in a soft tone of voice.
"I'll explain later," Olpara said. "Now we have to save Misara and stop Asharass."
"We have to get down there," Haranye said as he nocked an arrow.
Misara had been brought to the edge of the bowl. The armoured construct called for a dagger.
"We have no time to plan," Varatel said as she brought forth a bit of fur and a small glass rod from her robes.
Haranye had drawn his bow as Barith held one of his kukris as if he were ready to throw it.
Before any of them could launch their attacks, Misara had hurled herself out over the bowl and splashed into the thick red liquid, sinking out of sight in a moment.
As cries of alarm went up from the platform Olpara reached into her jacket for a small leather-satchel.
When Asharass heard the shouts from above she was instantly on the platform. "What's happening?" she demanded of Onica.
"Mistress, the elf has jumped into the bowl. I have ordered the crossbow men to kill her as soon as she surfaces."
Asharass turned to look at the bowl, the blood level nearly up to the etched line. It was no longer being stirred, those that had been doing so were now driving their long staves into the blood, hoping, she supposed, to hit the elf. Guards with crossbows were moving up the stairs; some of the workers had crossbows as well and they already stood ready on the edge of the bowl.
"Open the valve!" Asharass screamed. "Open it now!"
The girl who had earlier checked the valve ran to do as Asharass ordered. She was halfway down the narrow stairs that led to the bottom of the bowl when an arrow buried itself deeply between her shoulder blades. The girl stumbled and then fell from the stairs, her already dead body plummeting to the floor below.
"Attackers in the hall!" someone called out. "Attackers in the hall!"
Asharass looked up. The rafters above her had always been shadowy, but now it seemed as if those shadows were a little deeper. She could see a suggestion of movement in that darkness. Another arrow sped down, hitting one of the workers.
Ahsarass turned to the superior construct. "Go," she ordered it. "Open that valve."
The construct did as she said, running down the stairs, its weight causing the wood to shake dangerously.
From above her a bolt of lighting flashed down, hitting the construct. While the construct seemed hardly fazed by the bolt the stairs below it were blasted apart.
For a moment it appeared as if the construct would fall, but then it grabbed the iron framework that held the bowl and platform. Hand over hand it began to make its way to the valve.
The blood, and whatever else was mixed with it, pulled her down, closing over her head. She had her eyes tightly closed against it, but she could feel it in her nose, and it was under her armour, soaking her clothing underneath. It felt like the times she had emerged from long and huge battles, covered in blood.
She kicked with her legs, speeding towards the bottom of the bowl. She hit the glass with some force, in surprise her eyes opened, just a little, and the blood mixture made them sting. Shutting them tightly, she began to pound upon the glass with her mailed fists.
It was like hitting thick steel. The glass seemed impervious to her blows.
A picture of the bowl formed in her mind. There was the long tube that led from the bowl to Ashaarass' covering. She crawled along the bottom, the weight of the blood above and her armour's weight holding her to the surface. Her fingers found a hole. She ran her fingers around the rim, and reached into it.
That had to be it, she thought, reaching up and breaking the clasp that held her cloak. Working blind she balled the cloak up and then stuffed it into the hole. She pushed at it, making certain that it was wedged in tightly and blocked the drain.
It would give her some time. Hopefully it would be enough. Enough for what she was still not certain.
Her lungs beginning to ache, she turned about, and started swimming for the surface, powerful kicks speeding her up through the blood. Something hit her shoulder, glancing off, pushing her a little of course. She twisted away and continued up.
When she broke the surface she threw her head back, forcing the blood from her face, and then took a deep breath. She heard the twang of bowstrings, and the splash of arrows or bolts entering the blood around her. One hit her, but was turned by her armour.
She dove back down under the blood, still with no idea of what to do.
Asharass heard the sound of the crossbows firing, and the shouts from the people around the bowl. Obviously the elf had surfaced. She hoped that a bolt had killed her. She watched as the construct reached the valve control. Dangling by one hand, it reached out and turned the valve.
She let out a cry of triumph, but it was cut short. No blood flowed from the bowl into the pipe.
"Kill that elf," she screamed. "Kill them all! Fix the valve and let the blood flow!"
She would not be denied. She would not be so close the fulfillment of her destiny only to fail now.
Olpara watched as Misara surfaced. She dove back down almost immediately as crossbow bolts sliced into the blood around her. Misara still lived. She took a ring from the leather satchel, clutching it tight in her hand. Misara would surface again soon. She hoped.
"We must get down there," Barith said.
"I'll drop a line. Varatel, clear that platform." Kir'Mana had removed the small pack he wore and was pulling a coil of rope from it.
"Be ready," Varatel said as she looked through her belt pouch.
"Ware bolts," Estai called out.
Olpara and the elves used the support beams for cover as a hail of crossbow bolts rose up to the ceiling.
Haranye ran along a beam, firing rapidly as her did so. His arrows sped downwards.
Olpara was aware of all that tangentially. Her attention was focused on the bowl beneath her, waiting for Misara to surface.
Misara kicked downwards again, searching for the hole that opened to the pipe. Once there she made sure her cloak was still tightly jammed within. Fearing that a pole might work the cloth plug free, she pulled her gauntlets off and wedged them into the hole as well. It would keep it all tightly packed, for a time.
She remained at the bottom of the bowl, trying to come up with a plan. As her lungs once more began to burn she turned about and swam to the surface.
People rushed around the platform, trying to follow Asharass' orders. No one seemed to have any idea of how to do so: At least not quickly.
"Lady Asharass," someone called from behind her.
She turned to find Cirtimin standing nearby.
"What is it?" she demanded.
"Portals have opened around the hill. Soldiers from Silverymoon come forth."
Asharass spouted off a string of curses that had not been heard in over ten thousand years. "Tell my soldiers to hold," she ordered Cirtimin. "They only have to hold for ten minutes, no more. Ten minutes and the entire North will be ours."
"Yes my Lady," he told her, and then was gone.
Asharass looked about the platform. If she had a physical body she would kill these people with her own claws.
Olpara saw Misara break the surface of the blood. She leapt from the beam and fell. She heard a gasp of surprise, perhaps from Varatel.
"Misara," Olpara shouted as she fell.
Below her people looked up. Several of them held crossbows. Most were too slow to bring their weapons to bear on her. A few of them managed to do so. Olpara hardly noticed. Her attention was focused on Misara.
Onica heard someone call the elf's name. She looked up, her repeating crossbow shifting about as she did. A small form was dropping towards the bowl. She cranked the hand lever and fired.
Misara was about to dive down once more when she heard a familiar voice call her name. She wiped the blood from her eyes and looked up towards the sound, hoping that the crossbow bolts falling around her would not find their mark.
Olpara was dropping towards her, calling her name. The halfling had her eyes focused on her, and was obviously trying to reach her.
It was not something that Misara had expected.
Several crossbows were fired at Olpara as she fell.
At least one of the bolts hit.
Olpara's eyes opened and her mouth formed a perfect 'O'.
Misara lifted her hands, kicking hard with her feet to keep from sinking.
Olpara fell into her hands. Misara caught her, pulled her tight to her chest even as she flipped around so as to shield her. The force of the halfling's fall drove both of them under the blood.
Misara tried to feel for a wound on Olpara, searching for the crossbow bolt that had hit the halfling. Olpara hindered her, twisting in her arms, grasping for her hand. Then Misara felt Olpara push something into her right hand. It was a piece of metal, made slick with blood. It took her a moment to realise that it was a ring.
She almost let it drop, but Olpara was desperate to force it into her hand, and Misara did not know why. Olpara's actions over the last few days had been odd, different from the woman that had joined them on their quest. They had changed ever since they had escaped the Grey Mist Keep.
Suddenly she had a memory of an enchanted pane of glass shattering.
She knew what the ring was.
As she took it firmly she felt Olpara relax. Misara put it on her smallest finger and kicked for the bottom of the bowl. Holding Olpara in the crook of her left arm she put her right hand on the glass. Shifting around she placed her left hand over the stone on the ring and bean to press on it.
Beneath her fingers she could feel the glass begin to vibrate. The blood carried that vibration; she felt a pressure begin to build in her ears. As the vibrations grew stronger the pressure did as well.
Misara wondered if the ring could shatter the glass of the bowl.
She wondered if she could survive the force needed to do that.
Asharass wanted more than ever to scream and rage. The blood still did not flow, the elf lived, enemy still attacked from above, and a halfling had joined the elf in the blood.
She could hear the booming of in the distance as the enemy outside began to assault the gates, but her forces could hold them off. Her concern was within the hold.
Striding up to where Onica stood she demanded, "Why is this taking so long?"
"I am sorry Mistress."
"Send guards into the bowl, take the battle to the elf." Even as Asharass said it she knew it was not a good idea, but she could think of nothing else.
"As you say Mistress," Onica said.
Asharass knew that Onica did not think it a good idea as well, but she would do as ordered.
Before Onica could call out her orders the surface of the blood began to tremble.
"What is happening?" Asharass asked.
"I do not know Mistress, perhaps..."
There was a loud crack from below, and the blood began to rapidly drain. For a moment Asharass thought that the blockage had been removed, that the blood was flowing down towards her body. Then she saw that it was emptying far too fast, and there were calls of shock from below her.
The bowl had been cracked. The blood was emptying out.
One moment Misara was on the floor of the bowl, immersed in blood. The next she was falling, still immersed in blood. She hit something as she fell, a long bar that twisted her to the side. The support frame below the bowl, she realised, and threw out her hand to grab at some handhold.
Her fingers closed on something. It was slick with the blood, and her fingers began to slip. She gripped tightly and felt the metal deform under her fingers. She feared that it might break, but she did not relax her grip, as she also feared that she would fall.
After a moment it was no longer as if she was immersed in blood, but more as if she stood in a waterfall of it. The flow lessened, and then was gone, but for a light rain that splattered on her.
She jammed her feet into some of the supports below her, and then looked around. There was a hole in the bowl above her, below her the floor was covered in a pool of spreading blood. To her side three men, armed with crossbows, stood on the stairs. They lifted their weapons and took aim at her.
Misara pulled the short sword from the sheath on Olpara's belt. The blade slid out, cutting through the air. With an ease that amazed her she intercepted the bolts, knocking them aside.
Before the guards could reload she saw Kir'Mana come running down the stairs, long sword and short sword in his hands. He cut down the three crossbow men even as they tried to draw their own swords. He turned towards her and called, "I'll cover your descent."
Misara nodded and began to climb down the support scaffolding, one hand still holding tight to Olpara. Kir'Mana bounded down the stairs, cutting down anyone on the stairs. There were too few guards about and Misara wondered what the reason for that was.
She reached a lower platform. She dropped to her knees and gently lay Olpara down. Placing her hands on the bare skin of Olpara's face and neck Misara prepared to heal her. There was no pulse in the halfling's neck Misara realised as she said the words to a prayer of healing and let the power flow into the small body. There was no effect. It was like pouring water into a vase with a hole.
Olpara was dead.
She heard the sound of footfalls behind her. She turned and found Kir'Mana standing there. He was smiling and had a second long sword tucked under his arm. When he saw Olpara laying there his smile faded. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Little fool," Misara said, looking at the short sword she held. "Why didn't you draw your blade before jumping?"
"There is still fighting going on," Kir'Mana said, his tone apologetic.
Misara took the short sword and placed it on Olpara's chest, then brought the halfling's hands up to grip the hilt. "Corellon Larethian, Protect this little one's soul until her goddess comes to claim it." She stood and took the long sword from Kir'Mana.
"We'll make them pay," he told her.
Asharass could hear Onica ordering people below, to sponge up the fallen blood in any way possible. Onica was always trying to do what was best. Asharass saw another worker fall, an arrow in his chest, and bolts of magical energy streaked down to the floor to kill a worker running to follow Onica's orders.
"Onica, you must leave," Asharass told her.
Onica turned, surprise on her face. "Mistress?"
"It is over. It has failed. You must go, you must prepare for the next time."
"Do not argue. I am eternal. I will be here when you come to free me. I will not allow you to die. Now go."
Onica nodded. "As you wish Mistress. I will return." She turned and ran from the platform, leaping across to the wall, disappearing among the shadows. Ahsarass was certain that Onica would escape.
She left the platform, instantly appearing by Cirtimin's side.
"Cirtimin, you must go," she told him.
He looked away from the fighting that was going on near the main gate. The enemy had almost breached the armoured portals. "Lady Asharass?"
"The plan has failed. You must flee and plan anew. I will be waiting for you."
He nodded in understanding. "I will return to you," he said. "We will succeed."
Asharass left him and went off to find others who were too important for her to let die. There were only a few.
Once they had all been ordered to flee she stood in the middle of the hall, looking about her. The soldiers from Silverymoon had broken the gates and were within the hall. Without their leaders her soldiers were unable to mount an effective defence.
Not far off she saw Misara, fighting with one of the helmed horrors. She almost called back her superior construct so that it might kill the elf. Revenge would not serve her purpose at that time, however.
The elf would live, for this day.
She let the projection fade, returning herself completely to her body. From high above the floor she watched the events unfold through the glass that covered her head.
Misara stood over the dissolving body of a helmed horror, looking for any other enemies. None presented themselves. She heard the sound of shod hooves on stone, and looked up towards a set of large, double doors. Through them rode a group of warriors. At their lead Misara recognised Domas.
He turned his warhorse and rode toward her, stopping a few paces away.
"We have broken their defences," he told her, his jovial voice echoing slightly in his helmet. "We will secure the entire place soon enough."
"I am glad," Misara told him.
He looked up at the huge form of Asharass. "Surely such a thing should never have been forged."
Misara did not say anything to that. She wondered, had Taumon taken the body, would he still be a powerful friend to the elves, or would time and power have corrupted that?
"There is still some fighting to do," he said. "Are you alright?"
"I have to find the elves who came with me. Good hunting Domas."
"And you," he told her, then turned his horse and rode off.
There was no more fighting left for Misara. She found Varatel and the others in various places around the hall. Other than Varatel all of them had taken some injuries, but nothing serious. She gathered them together and told them to rest up.
Varatel told her of how they had come to enter the hall, or what little she knew of it. Apparently Olpara had arranged for it, but Varatel had no idea how it was accomplished. It might be a mystery that was never answered, just another debt they owed the halfling.
She left them and went to stand beneath Asharass, waiting for Rowan.
Someone had soldiers dragging tarps covered with dirt into the hall. The dirt was tossed over the blood to absorb it. The mud that was created was then shovelled back onto the tarps and dragged away. It as almost finished when Rowan rode into the hall.
She had Rose Thorn gallop across the floor towards Misara. She pulled the horse to a halt nearby and then leapt down from his back. "We did it," she cried. "We've done it." She looked up at the dragon. "We beat Asharass!"
"We did. It is as much Olpara's victory as anyone else's," Misara told her, "and she paid for it with her life."
Rowan turned away from the dragon, a look of confusion on her face. "What?"
Misara reached out and put a hand on Rowan's shoulders. "She was very brave." She took her hand away and then started walking towards the stairs. Rowan followed after her, saying nothing.
Misara climbed the stairs until she was even with the platform where she had left Olpara. She leapt across and then helped Rowan cross.
Olpara lay there, as Misara had left her. Looking down at her Misara said, "She left me with a debt that I cannot repay."
Rowan knelt down beside Olpara's body. She took her cloak and used the corner to clean the blood from the halfling's face.
Misara knew that the time would come when Rowan would want to talk, but at the moment Rowan wanted to be alone. Misara left quietly, jumping over to the stairs and then descending to the floor.